P. O. Box 4015 Arsenal Station
Pittsburgh, PA 15201-0015

The Arsenal Tunnels

       
This article was written by Jude Wudarczyk. It appeared in the March 2002 issue of
Historical Happenings the official newsletter of the Lawrenceville Historical Society. Photos have been added to this webpage that have not appeared in the original article courtesy of Allan Becer.

Tired but excited over their adventure, the LHS explorers pose outside the entrance of the famed “Arsenal Tunnels.” From left to right – Allan Becer, Jude Wudarczyk, Mary Johnston, and Rich Besset. (Photo by Mark Sachon)

Ever since I was a boy growing up in Lawrenceville I heard stories about the tunnels that ran parallel to 40th Street. Many speculated that they were part of the old Allegheny Arsenal. Others guessed that their purpose was to smuggle goods or slaves from the riverbank to a safer haven. There were many descriptions of the tunnels. Some had them starting at the Allegheny River and continuing as far as Penn Avenue. Others had reported other starting or ending points.

No one would claim to have actually been in the tunnels themselves. They all knew someone else that made the mysterious underground trek. This led some of us at the Lawrenceville Historical Society to believe that the mysterious Arsenal Tunnels were nothing more than a giant hoax.

However, when two individuals, Frank Novosel and Bill Schivins, reported that the entrance was in the County Maintenance Department Complex under the 40th Street Bridge I decided to make an inquiry at the department office. I spoke with several of the workers and received information that was so similar to that provided by Frank and Bill that I could no longer believe that there was nothing to the legends. After receiving official permission to set up an exploration of the tunnel I made arrangements to have an experienced tunnel and cave explorer, Mark Sachon, co-author of Urban Blight, a Rock Climber’s Guide To Pittsburgh, make a preliminary journey through the Arsenal tunnel and report back his findings. Mark was happy to do this for us, and provided his services without charge to our society.

Entrance – viewed from inside looking out. Mark Sachon is standing by the door. (Photo by Allan Becer)

Mark’s report was astounding. Not only was the tunnel relatively safe for an inexperienced tunnel explorer such as me, it was obviously not a tunnel at all. More like a honeycomb of rooms, the mysterious area called for further exploration and a second trek was set up to take place on Friday, December 14, 2001.

Having already gone through, Mr. Sachon kindly agreed to lead the second excursion. Bill Siebert and Jack Grant provided access. Joining Mark and me were LHS Board members Mary Johnston and Richard Bassett and local historian and LHS member Allan Becer, co-author of Monster on the Allegheny…and Other Lawrenceville Stories.

The entranceway to the rooms is a tiny crawl space measuring three feet by three feet and runs about three or four deep. It is covered by a steel grate, which is kept locked to deny access to unauthorized persons. Navigating the entrance is a difficult task, but once having accomplished this fete one is immediately greeted by a large room measuring approximately ten feet by ten feet. This chamber is estimated to be about twelve feet high.

This chamber has a massive concrete slab in it. The slab is much too large to fit through the doorway. (Photo by Allan Becer)

The chamber had a circular layout, which was filled with dirt. It may have been a sewer. (Photo by Allan Becer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you traverse a more or less straight line there are twelve more such chambers for a total of thirteen. For sake of convenience I will refer these chambers as the central chambers. Each central chamber has another chamber off to its right and left, which I will call secondary chambers. Some secondary chambers then have yet another chamber beyond it. These will be called auxiliary chambers.

Graffiti marks many of the walls. This message is from 1949. (Photo by Allan Becer)

Note the series of doors leading from one chamber to the next. (Photo by Allan Becer)

There is no sign of electricity in the honeycomb, but pipes pass overhead and exit without providing any evidence that they have a function within the chambers. Obviously, they are just passing through and possibly provide water and/or gas to the buildings on 40th Street or the Arsenal Terminal. As we progressed inward the ceiling got lower, and we had to be very careful not to bump our heads. I believe that only one of these pipes was oblong in shape and the others were round.

The rooms were filled with graffiti and debris. Obviously, the construction matched that of the bridge, and not the Arsenal. The chamber walls were made of concrete. In places they were beaded with water, as was the ceiling. Occasional stalagmites and stalactites were visible. In spots rusted steel cables poke through the walls some of which have wooden blocks at the end of them. Despite the moisture on the walls and ceiling the rooms are very dry and dusty.

The doorways passing from one chamber to another required us to stoop. Only the central chambers have doorways connecting them to the next set of chambers. There were no signs of life in the chambers save for one set of tiny footprints and two spiders. Sounds of traffic could be heard overhead in the first few chambers, but then was lost only to be heard again near the end of our tour.

The dust floor gave way in spots revealing occasional brickwork on the floor, which suggests to this author that we were walking along what was once the sidewalk of 40th Street. It is known that in the 1920’s while the bridge was being built, the street was shifted to allow for the construction. According to some reports a few of the buildings on the opposite side were lifted and pushed back.

One of the most interesting finds within the chambers is a narrow passage. Made visible because one of the floors gave way. This passage might have been a hallway or a sewer from the Allegheny Arsenal. (Photo by Allan Becer)

About midway through the excursion we came across one room where the floor had collapsed revealing a tunnel of sort about four feet wide and five and a half feet high. It was oblong on three sides with an arched ceiling, and looked very much like it might have been part of the Allegheny Arsenal at one time. Only about seven or eight feet of this tunnel is visible. Allan Becer speculated that it was part of an old sewer system. I feel that it is the remains of an old hallway belonging to a building. It must be remembered that sewers are usually far below ground level, and the chamber floor was more or less ground level. The exposed tunnel was not very far beneath the surface of the chamber floor hence I feel it is unlikely to have been a sewer. However, only further investigation will settle the issue. *

Later that day Allan found out large structures such as university buildings and bridges often have these honeycombs, which serve as part of the superstructure. An architect told him that the purpose of these honeycombs is twofold. First and foremost, they are just as strong of a base as if a solid concrete slab. As they use a lot less concrete they are a lot more economical than a solid slab. Second, they serve as a dumping ground for unwanted building material, which would explain a lot of the debris we saw.

Although this is a very logical explanation,it does not explain why there are doorways connecting the chambers. Nor does it explain why there are steel cables protruding from some of the walls or why some of these cables have wooden blocks on the ends. While some questions remain, we now know that the legendary Arsenal Tunnels do exist even if they aren’t part of the Arsenal, aren’t tunnels and don’t run from the riverbank to Penn Avenue.

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* Further investigation has found a likely answer to Jude’s speculation. While researching the construction of the Allegheny Arsenal, I came across a section of the 1859 Ordnance Department Report to the Secretary of War. The report on the Allegheny Arsenal (shown here is part of page 1121) states that a tunnel was dug from the river to the machine shop’s steam engines to supply them with water for their boilers. The machine shop was located right along 40th Street near where the bridge peers are positioned. Jude’s measurement of the exposed tunnel shown in the above photo, four feet wide and five and a half feet high, corresponds with the measurements given in the report. – Tom Powers

Lawrenceville’s Oldest Photo

This just may be the oldest photo taken of the Lawrenceville landscape. The photo was shot by William T. Purviance who had a photography studio at the corner of Diamond and Market Streets in Pittsburgh from 1859 to 1867. The Pennsylvania Central Railroad hired him to do a series of scenic views of the areas it served. This shot of the Allegheny Arsenal’s Butler Street gatehouse was probably taken circa 1868 when he began the series. The photo is one side of a stereoview and the full card is shown below.

Allegheny Arsenal Photo Map

Click on image to enlarge. To download the full size image right-click on base image and select “Save Link As.”

Lawrenceville Borough (1834-1868)

By Tom Powers

These days, not many Pittsburghers realize that once upon a time Lawrenceville was an independent borough outside Pittsburgh’s city limits. I had never seen the drawn boundaries of Lawrenceville Borough until I attended a lecture in the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library about an 1859 panoramic map of Pittsburgh.

Lawrenceville Borough was formed out of Peebles Township in 1834. Peebles had been erected a year prior to that out of Pitt Township. Collins Township was formed out of Peebles in 1850. Collins, Lawrenceville, Pitt, and Peebles were all consolidated into the City of Pittsburgh in 1868.

On display were several other maps including an 1862 map of Allegheny County from which the map on this page is taken. On this map, the borders of Lawrenceville Borough were clearly defined.

Our LHS collection includes a copy of the laws and ordinances of the borough from 1834 to 1863. Among the ordinances are the boundaries of the borough at its later expansions. Unfortunately, the description of the borders in the ordinances includes some landmarks that are long gone, for instance:

… west one hundred and twenty-five and three fourth poles*, (crossing Covington street at forty-three and three fourth poles, and Pike street at eighty-five and one fourth poles) to a post; thence south forty-one degrees, west ninety-eight poles, to a large button wood tree, (a well known land mark) on the bank of the Two Mile Run… (Laws of the Borough of Lawrenceville).

* A pole equals sixteen and a half feet.

Well, that large buttonwood tree is long gone, and Two Mile Run has been piped underground. These survey points are of little use in trying to recreate Lawrenceville Borough boundaries, so it was a stroke of good fortune that a contemporary (1862) cartographer was able to draw up the borough.

Originally, the northeast boundary of Lawrenceville Borough was roughly along the line of today’s Main Street or “beginning at a large soft maple tree in front of Samuel Ewalt’s land” (long gone). The borough expanded up to 48th Street in 1844 and then up to 51st Street in 1852. Interestingly, neither Allegheny Cemetery nor St.Mary’s Cemetery were ever within the borough’s boundaries.

As population grows, municipalities are stressed to perform services within their borders. This is why certain neighborhoods or communities would petition the state of Pennsylvania to form a municipality with more manageable borders. Partly because of its topography, Allegheny County currently has 130 municipalities, the most in the state. Luzerne County is second with 76 municipalities.

Today, Lawrenceville is divided into three sections within the City of Pittsburgh (which annexed the area in 1868): Lower (part of the 6th Ward), Central (9th Ward) and Upper (part of the 10th Ward). Taken together, they stretch along the Allegheny River from 33rd Street to the Sharpsburg bridge (technically 62nd Street).

If anyone can find traces of the large buttonwood or soft maple trees, let us know.

(From the LHS newsletter Historical Happenings, March 2017)

Sources

W. B. Negley, “Allegheny County; its Formation, its Cities, Wards, Boroughs and Townships,” Atlas of the County of Allegheny, Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins & Co. , 1876, p. 4.

Map of Allegheny County, Philadelphia: Smith, Gallupp & Hewitt, 1862, www.loc.org

Map of Allegheny County, Philadelphia: Sidney & Neff; Allegheny City: S. Moody, agent, 1851, www.loc.org

Laws of the Borough of Lawrenceville, Allegheny County, PA., Acts of Assembly, Supplements Thereto, and Ordinances Passed by the Burgess and Town Council, Pittsburgh: Barr & Myers, 1863.

The “Doughboy Mystery”

By Jim Wudarczyk

The most definitive account of Lawrenceville’s iconic “Doughboy Statue” was compiled in 2004 for the Lawrenceville Historical Society’s second published volume, A Doughboy’s Tale. . .and More Lawrenceville Stories. Since then, new information has come to light. With the passing of more than a decade, it was time to revisit the subject.

If the people of Lawrenceville had to pick one thing to symbolize their neighborhood, no doubt they would choose the Doughboy Statue that stands guard at the confluence of the neighborhood’s two main arteries of Butler Street and Penn Avenue.

How the Doughboy came to be is an interesting story. It was never intended that a monument honoring veterans be erected. Rather, the people of the Lawrenceville community got caught up in the patriotic fervor of World War I. Wanting to show their support for the men in service, they conceived the idea of holding a bazaar to raise money. In 1918, the Lawrenceville Board of Trade organized a fundraiser in the form of a carnival held in Arsenal Park.

Since the war ended before the money could reach the troops, it was suggested that Lawrenceville emulate other communities and use the funds to erect a monument to honor our troops. In order to meet the goal of $10,000, additional fundraising took place in 1919.

The monument was to honor the troops of what was then the Fifth Zone, which was comprised of the city’s Sixth Ward. The Art Commission of the City of Pittsburgh held a special meeting on February 25, 1920, and approved the plans for the statue. It was recommended that Allen George Newman of New York City be awarded the contract as sculptor. Application to the Art Commission recommended the location of the junction of Penn Avenue and Butler Street.

Dedicatory events for the Lawrenceville monument were scheduled for May 30, 1921.

An enthusiastic crowd gathers around the newly mounted Doughboy Statue on May 4, 1947. This snapshot photo was taken by Robert Plonski (1890-1948) from the third floor of Plonski’s Tavern at 3405 Butler Street. This donated photo from Phyllis Renda was the key to the Doughboy mystery.

By the early 1940s, the Doughboy Statue was a little over twenty years old and was already showing signs of neglect. A piece in the Pittsburgh Press, January 25, 1942, noted, “Out at Penn Ave. and Thirty-fourth St. in the Lawrenceville district, the stone base of the soldier monument in front of the defunct Pennsylvania National Bank is chipped and cracked in countless places and children romp up and down the memorial.” The Pittsburgh Bulletin Index in April 13, 1944, stated that the statue was “grimy from City’s soot.”

Then, shortly after the Second World War, the Pittsburgh Press, January 20, 1946, wrote of the Doughboy, “He was supposed to look tired when he was moulded, but not as tired as he looks since Christmas…To his already weighty pack has been added a discarded Christmas tree, upside down. There are also the tattered remnants of an American flag tied to his bayonet, possibly a hangover from V-J Day.”

While there is ample documentation relating to the creation of the World War I monument, until recently all the Lawrenceville Historical Society knew about the addition of the bronze plaques with the names of the World War II veterans from the Sixth Ward was that they were added “sometime after the Second World War.”

For the last two years, Lawrenceville Historical Society’s chief researchers—Tom Powers, Jim Wudarczyk, and Jude Wudarczyk—made an exhaustive search of the archives of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the Senator John Heinz History Center, Carnegie Library, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, government agencies, newspapers, and other sources in an attempt to establish a date when the original statue was altered. Since the statue is so prominent in the community and a great piece of artwork by a renowned sculptor, it was astonishing that the record of the dedication date was so difficult to find. Even the City of Pittsburgh’s Art Commission had nothing in their files.

Not wanting to be deterred in the search, Tom Powers suggested that the team look into the biographies of the two architects—Karl Weber and Anthony Pyzdrowski—responsible for the project. Powers found the following reference in the September 1950 issue of The Charette, “A war memorial at the corner of Penn and Butler in Lawrenceville is the design of County Architect-Engineer Karl ‘Dutch’ Weber. The day of the recent dedication was not a memorable one for Dutch. Discovering that his name chiseled in stone on the monument was misspelled ‘Carl’ instead of ‘Karl,’ he sulked throughout the ceremonies. Still annoyed at the mistake several days later, Weber called the stone contractor and asked what could be done about it. He was told that the ‘C’ could be changed to ‘K’ for only $50. But since the Memorial Committee isn’t interested in any alterations this soon and since ‘Dutch’ doesn’t value his vanity at any more than $37.50—at the most—he’s brushed the whole thing from his mind.”

Based on the above reference, it appeared that the dedication took place sometime in 1950. Looking at microfilm of Pittsburgh newspapers in 1950 proved futile.

Interestingly, the obituaries of Weber and Pyzdrowski made no mention of their roles in the creation of the Lawrenceville landmark. Jim Wudarczyk reached out to a relative of Anthony Pyzdrowski, but again no date surfaced.

As for Art Bronze Company, this institution was housed in a building at 37th and Liberty Avenue. The building suffered damage from a fire and was razed early in 2015. When Jim Wudarczyk found the name of the company’s treasurer, he tried to reach out, but found that the phone number had been disconnected.

The research team was joined by LHS member Linda Kemmerling and began the arduous task of reviewing microfilmed copies of Pittsburgh newspapers. Jim Wudarczyk continued reaching out to various government agencies and universities for leads.

When Jim Wudarczyk and Joann Cantrell were working on the Lawrenceville book for Arcadia Publications, former Lawrenceville resident Phyllis Renda graciously allowed the use of a picture of the dedication of the World War II plaques that a family member had taken. Unfortunately, the picture was not dated. In the background were the old Penn Theater and a billboard advertisement for Kaufmann’s Department Store. Wudarczyk speculated that if the picture were enlarged, one could determine the movie being played at the time. Then the team would be able to restrict the search to the year when the particular film hit the theater circuit. Unfortunately, there was not enough detail in the photograph to make a positive identification.

Powers was convinced that the picture was a key to solving the “Doughboy Mystery.”

First, Tom Powers, Jude Wudarczyk, and Eddie Pearsick studied the various models of automobiles. Again, this did not lead to any major leads. Next, Powers zeroed in on the advertisement for Kaufmann’s Department Store. He noticed that the particular Kaufmann’s logotype used in the billboard had only been seen in the company’s newspaper advertising between March 3, 1947, and May 27, 1948.

As the leads were diminishing, the research team was losing hope of ever finding the missing piece of the puzzle.

Then on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, while doing an internet search, team member Linda Kemmerling received a link to an advertisement for Newspapers.com services. The ad showed a thumbnail page from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that contained a photo with a headline reading… “Sixth Ward Unveils its Honor Roll.” This ad was generated based on key phrases Linda typed into her search… “Sixth Ward” and “Honor Roll.” Searches by the other team members didn’t have this combination. The page’s tiny photograph showed a large crowd of people by what appeared to be the Doughboy Statue. Kemmerling made note of the date, May 5, 1947.

Not having a Newspapers.com account, Linda immediately raced off to the microfilm department of the Carnegie Library in Oakland. There on page 17 of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the missing link. Under the photograph of the dedicatory service was a brief caption that noted: “THE DOUGHBOY, a statue which has stood at Butler street and Penn avenue as a memorial to those who served in World War I , now stands on a new base of marble and limestone which supports bronze tablets listing names of the 3,100 Sixth Ward residents in service in World War II, including 53 who died in action. Dedication ceremonies, attended by about 4,000, followed a parade which formed at Twenty-seventh street and Liberty avenues. Council President Thomas K. Kilgallen was among the speakers. The project cost $11,000.”

Turning to the Pittsburgh Press, May 4, 1947, was further evidence of the dedication date. The headline read: “6th Ward Honors Veterans Today.” While the article contained some of the information that the Post-Gazette noted, the Press noted that the parade was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. “Members of six military posts will be among 3,000 veterans, who will march. Mayor David L. Lawrence, County Commission Chairman John Kane and Dr. A.L. Lewin of the Board of Education will speak.”

It is ironic that within a few short years following the dedication of the World War II bronze plates that drew a crowd of 4,000 on May 4, 1947, the event was largely forgotten. It is further ironic that the search to find the date for the dedicatory service was found—as many discoveries are—quite by accident.

(From the LHS newsletter Historical Happenings, June 2017)

Sources

“Sixth Ward Unveils its Honor Roll,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 5, 1947, p 17.

“6th Ward Honors Veterans Today.” Pittsburgh Press, May 4, 1947, p 2.

Plans and Pan—C/$/K.” Charette, September 1950, p 11.

Dunbar, Lt. Donald F. “Personality of the Times,” Charette, September 1950, p 19.

“Obituaries: Karl B. Weber.” Charette. June 1955. pp 23-24.

“Pyzdrowski, Architect and Builder, Dies,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 21, 1964.

Evert, Marilyn. Discovering Pittsburgh’s Sculpture, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

Becer, Allan, Daren Stanchak, James Wudarczyk, and Jude Wudarczyk. A Doughboy’s Tale…and More Lawrenceville Stories. Pittsburgh: Lawrenceville Historical Society, 2004.

First in Lawrenceville

Below are a number of firsts associated with Lawrenceville people and companies.

• Stephen Foster, who was born and is buried in Lawrenceville was the first American to earn his sole living as a composer. He is also the first known musical composer to refer to an African-American woman as “a lady.” Also, he was the first to portray an African-American marriage in the same way as a white American marriage. He did so in his song “Nellie Was a Lady.”

• Bartley Campbell, who is buried in Lawrenceville’s St. Mary’s Cemetery, was America’s first full time playwright.

• Fritzie Zivic was the first Croat-American to win a world boxing championship. He became the World Welterweight Champion on October 4, 1940.

• Johnny Miljus was the first Serbian-American to play professional baseball. He was also the first ball player to be drafted during WWI.

• Harry E. Sheldon, who grew up in the Presbyterian Home Orphanage in Lawrenceville, was the first American to manufacture stainless steel.

• Commercial Press on Butler Street is believed to be the first company to make “calendar pals”.

• Sister Sean of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Store lays claim to making the first “Steeler Rosary” complete with black and gold prayer beads while the store was located in Lawrenceville in 1996. Sister Sean tells us that the rosaries have made it to all parts of the world including the North Pole.

• Lawrenceville’s H. K. Porter Company first developed compressed air locomotive in 1890. They also developed the first fireless steam locomotive in 1915.

• In 1963 Pittsburgh Brewing became the first company to use pull tab cans. In 2004 Pittsburgh Brewing Company became the first national brand to sell their beer in aluminum bottles. They were also the first company to use twist off reusable caps.

• The “Lawrenceville Test”, which was conducted in October 1886, was the first successful large scale, long distance test using AC electricity.

• Samuel Kier, who owned the first oil refinery, is buried in Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Cemetery.

• Thomas Enright, was one of the first three, and may have been the first U. S. soldier killed in combat during WWI. He is buried in Lawrenceville’s St. Mary’s Cemetery.

• Lawrenceville native, Jude Wudarczyk was the first person to record the rules of three card games, Owcy Glowa (Polish Sheep’s Head), Four Colors (an game from Southeast Asia), and Three Chrysanthemums (also from Southeast Asia) into the English language.